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How to Surf a Longboard: Let's Keep it Classic!

Learning how to surf a longboard (and I mean really surf a longboard) is one hell of an artform, a testament to the history of surfing, an embodiment of wave-riding style, and a dance with mother nature that every surfer should take the time to practice.

From beginner surfers to the most experienced alike, a big ol' log is a must-have in any quiver and will present a lovely realm of versatility to utilize with these long and floaty shapes.

Want to know how to surf a longboard and spend some much-needed time on the tip of the nose (we're talking to you, shortboard fanatics!)? Good stuff; we're stoked you're here, so stick around and keep on readin' for some insight and advice.

What are Longboards Used For?

Longboards are killer pieces of surfing equipment used for a few different reasons, each holding a heck of a lot of value to us surfers. I like to break down the general uses of a longboard into three broad categories:

Learning How to Surf

With ample volume and stability, longboards are a go-to for beginner surfers learning how to surf. They allow you to easily catch small waves and whitewash, perfect your pop-up, and learn the basics of riding down the face. Often, new surfers opt for a foam longboard to lower intimidation and reduce the chance of being bonked (or bonking someone else) in the head.

Surfing Small Waves

Many surfers rely on a longboard to get them through those small, knee-high summer days while they wait patiently (with ample anticipation, of course) for bigger swell. If you asked a hardcore surfer, 'what are longboards used for?', they'd probably say to enjoy the passing of time on small or low-quality waves. As surfers, we'll take every opportunity we can to ride a wave, and a longboard is a key to small wave success.

Longboarding With Passion

Some surfers simply love longboarding- they'd choose a ten-foot log over a shorty any day, and for a good reason. With stylish maneuvers, such as hanging 10, stretched-out cheater 5's, riding switch, and drop knee cutbacks, as well as the ability to surf a log in a wide variety of conditions, longboarding is a passion to many. What are longboards used for? Dang near everything!

How to Surf a Longboard for Beginners

It's a mix of a few things, so take it step by step (who caught my crosstep pun?!) and enjoy the ride.

#1. Choosing a Longboard

Before you learn how to surf a longboard for beginners, it is essential to understand the right style and size of a longboard for you. Keep sizing a longboard simple, and go with the 3 feet rule- in general, the size of your longboard should be about three feet longer than your height.

There are three general variations of longboards: the noserider, the performance, and the hybrid.

With more foam, a wide deck, and rounded rails and noses, a noserider longboard is meant for mellow trimming and to help keep you stable and balanced when crosstepping and hanging 10.

A more thinned-out performance longboard will cater to just that, more performance, as in more aggressive turns, a touch of pumping, a little extra speed, and overall a focus on progressive and modern surf maneuvers. Sure, you can still noseride them, but it takes experience. Just look at TJ Jensen, who can front air his log; now that is performance.

A hybrid longboard is the middle ground of noseriding ability and turning performance, a 'best of both worlds' if you will, and aside from a foam longboard, it is one of the best places to start when a beginner who is learning how to surf.

#2. Mastering the Basics

First things first, you've got to know how to paddle these suckers. Learning how to surf a longboard with ease requires perfect body position and timing with paddling.

Body Position

You want to find that sweet spot on your longboard to paddle it correctly. Try paddling around in flat conditions as you adjust your body positioning on the deck. Start with your feet a little above the tail, and move up, closer to the nose, if you feel like you are dragging as you paddle or notice the nose of the board lifting out of the water.

However, if you move too far up, you'll see your nose start to sink, so scoot your booty back to adjust. You'll know the sweet spot when the board feels like it effortlessly glides along the surface as you paddle.

Paddling

Practice long and strong paddles once you've found the ideal body positioning. Keep your chest centered, head lifted and looking forward, your core strong, and transition paddles from one arm to the other in a rhythmic fashion.

When paddling into the lineup, try to locate a channel to paddle out into to avoid breaking waves, and practice turtle rolling to get through the impact zone. As the whitewash heads towards you, flip the board around to the backside so that the fin sticks up, hold on tight to the rails, and flip it back around once the whitewash has passed. You want to avoid ditching your longboard at all costs.

The Pop-Up

Practice a swift one motion pop up on the sand without using your knees to help you up. For more information on paddling and how to pop up (for both longboarding and short boarding), visit our article "Paddling Out, Duck Diving, and the Pop Up- How to Master these Surfing Essentials."

#3. How to Catch a Wave Surfing a Longboard

Once you've got the basics on lock, then you are ready to work on how to catch a wave surfing a longboard. Take this information with you when you paddle out into the lineup and catch a few nuggets.

The Best Waves for Longboarding

Longboards, specifically for beginners, don't do well on steep and barreling waves. The best waves for longboards are generally on the small side and those that break slowly and mushy. If the waves are a little steep, you might want to find a nice inside section to ride or stick to riding the shoulders.

Observe

Start by observing the conditions from the beach. How/where are the waves breaking best, what direction do they tend to peel, where is the channel to paddle out, how are other surfers navigating the lineup, what kinds of boards are they riding?

These are essential questions to ask and answer for yourself before paddling out. You should never surf out of your comfort zone, so if conditions look a little too big or intimidating, or if no one else is riding a longboard, then perhaps look for a more beginner-friendly spot or paddle out a shortboard instead.

Positioning in the Lineup

Because of their increased length, mastering your positioning in the lineup when paddling into a wave is critical for learning how to surf a longboard well. Lousy positioning, and you'll nosedive (also known as pearling) right into the sand.

Sit a little further out the back than those riding a shortboard. You need enough room to gain speed before the wave begins to break, so give yourself about ten or so feet (depending on your specific location characteristics and conditions) to gain some speed before the wave breaks. Start with a few slow paddles as you gain momentum, and push hard during your last 2-3 paddles to really gain speed to match the wave velocity.

Always practice proper surfing etiquette, ensure that you are not dropping in on anyone, and make sure to let other surfers have plenty of waves, too.

Board Control and Direction

Sure, for your first couple of sessions, you might focus on only riding straight towards the beach on the whitewash, and that is totally okay. But as you gain experience, work on learning how to ride down the face.

Try to determine the direction you plan to ride down the wave face during the early stages of paddling into a wave by looking left and right as you paddle. If you determine the direction, this should give you enough time to slightly angle the nose of your longboard, either left or right, to better get down the line and avoid being trapped behind whitewash.

Once you pop up, keep your body low and centered with knees bent about shoulder-width apart. You can widen your stance for more stability, but it's good to be agile with your legs and feet on a log. Use the stringer as a reference to where to plant your feet.

If things get wonky or sketchy during a drop-in, you can stay ultra-low over your surfboard and grab the rail to help with directional changes, and stay locked in during difficult or steep drop-ins.

Using pumping to control your speed and aggressive bottom turns/carves to adjust directional changes is tough. Instead of pumping, try trimming and using pivot-based turns over the fin and longer, drawn-out bottom turns for directional changes.

Trimming a Longboard

Trimming a longboard is the act of using your body weight to adjust the position of the surfboard on the wave face to control your speed down the line. As you ride, feel how leaning into your heels and toes adjusts the direction your surfboard wants to take, and remember that your fin wants to follow your weight. If you want to know how to be a better longboard surfer, maintain ample focus in mastering board control via trimming and minute adjustments on the wave.

The higher up on the wave face, the faster you go, so trim towards the lip to gain speed. To stall or to slow down, trim towards the lower half of the wave. You need to learn how to trim in order to noseride effectively, so get comfortable with these adjustments.

The Bottom Turn, Pivot Turns, and Carves

A bottom turn is going to look a lot slower and drawn out on a longboard than it is on a shortboard. As you drop into the wave and move towards the trough, keep your knees bent to maintain balance and place some pressure onto the tail of the board.

As you increase pressure towards the tail, also lean your weight towards the direction you plan to take by leaning into either your toes or your heels, but don't let your upper body fall over your legs.

Whichever direction you go, use your eyes to look ahead, and lean your head and front shoulder towards the point where you wish to reach, as the board likes to follow that front shoulder.

For quicker turns and adjustments, use less of the rails than you do when bottom turning, and focus more on placing your weight on the fin to direct these sharper, pivot-based styles of turns, the most popular known as the 'drop-knee cutback'. When initiating these turns, position your body even closer to the tail, right over the fin. Press your weight not only back onto the tail but also in the direction you want the board to take, and you will feel the fin respond to this weight adjustment in conjunction with the pull of the wave as the nose of the longboard 'swings' with your body.

As well as a pivot turn, using this same idea is an excellent way to stall the longboard. If you plan to noseride and need to slow yourself down to lock into a specific section, again, place your feet above the fin and dig the tail of the board into the wave, this time without leaning in a direction. This will pop the nose of the board up high and will create drag that slows you down just long enough to get into that sweet spot.

How to Be a Better Longboard Surfer

What steps do you take to become a true ripper on big boards? Learning how to be a better longboard surfer starts with one simple thing: Experience.

If you want to become better, surf as much as you can on your log and surf in a wide variety of conditions. As you progress, continue learning about longboard shapes and how different tails, rails, and noses might affect your performance, and which shapes work best in certain conditions.

Also, my biggest piece of advice is to not be stubborn! Instead of paddling out a shortboard to try and scrape into thigh-high waves, be honest with yourself that it's a log day, and paddle out your longboard to catch more waves and spend more time actually surfing.

Oh, and a little piece of advice when it comes to fins. For more aggressive turns and control on bigger waves, if your board allows for a 2+1 set up, go with the addition of side bytes and a smaller, performance-based single fin.

For noseriders, we want to keep things classic with a big and chunky single fin. The further back towards the tail of your log you place the single fin, the more hold you gain through noserides, and the further up towards the nose, the looser the board becomes and the easier it is to turn. Keep this in mind, and play around with different fins and fin positions to find what feels best for you!

As well as this, if you really want to master how to be a better longboard surfer, watch other rippers in the lineup or classic videos. There are a plethora of style-based, longboard-oriented films out there, so watch the masters of the art and see how they ride. As you watch, pay attention to their body movements and how they adjust the surfboard on the wave to perform varying maneuvers.

Speaking of maneuvers, learning how to surf a longboard and learning how to noseride are basically the same dang thing, as noseriding is the culmination of all things logging. Practice your crosstep on land, take it slow on small waves by only crosstepping once or twice up and down the deck, get a cheater 5 down, and eventually, you'll find yourself perched on the nose with all ten toes dangling along the rails.

For more information on how to perform this stylish, wave-riding dance, visit our article "How to Noseride" to really take things to the next milestone.

Other techniques to work on to become a better rider on longboards include:

  • Fading
  • Trimming
  • Drop knee cutbacks
  • Switch stance riding
  • Floaters
  • Carves
  • Backward takeoffs
  • Bottom turns

And what is so rad about longboarding is the room for creativity. You really can express yourself and your style on a log, so have some fun with it and get wild! Be weird, have fun, and as always- enjoy the ride!